East Bay Parks’ youth employment program faces uncertain future amidst Civicorp expansion

The East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors has signaled a preference for working with at-risk youth through Civicorp, drawing scrutiny over the potential sidelining of its internal youth employment program.

Since its inception in 2014, the internal youth employment program has been dedicated to equipping at-risk youth with valuable job skills, often in collaboration with agencies like the Contra Costa County Office of Education. Former and current park employees and a current participant lauded the profound impact of the mentorship and training young participants receive, especially in a natural environment.

Ross Mitchell, president of the East Bay Parks union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2428, runs the internal program and has been trying for months to get additional partnership requests approved with organizations like the Ohlone College Career Center and La Familia. The board has ignored those requests so far.

Instead, the park district announced it was going to be focusing on expanding its partnership with Oakland-based Civicorp, a third-party contractor that has been working with the district for about 40 years. A spokesperson with East Bay Parks refused to arrange any interviews to clarify why the district made its decision.

The only cost to East Bay Parks for the internal youth employment program is Mitchell’s time. The participants’ pay is funded through a federal grant obtained through the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act. The cost to the district for the Civicorp program this year is just over $465,000.

There is no need to pit the programs, which have existed side by side for about a decade, against each other since park employees support Civicorp, Mitchell told the board at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19.

“We see a lot of work in the district,” Mitchell said. “We see a benefit to working with Civicorp. We also see a benefit to working with other youth service providers throughout Contra Costa and Alameda (County).”

But 3rd Ward Director Dennis Waespi made comments seemingly pitting the programs against each other for trivial reasons, like the lack of uniforms provided to participants in the internal youth employment program. He said he preferred the Civicorp program.

“This is the right group to stay with because, you know, when we talk about the things they come prepared with, like that training facility down there,” Waespi said, “those folks come dressed in a uniform ready to work and they have transportation.”

Mitchell and others who spoke during public comments pointed out that expanding the Civicorp partnership without first meeting and conferring with the union is a violation of the district’s labor agreement with the union. The contract clearly states a joint labor management review board shall review any new proposed or expanded programs, including with alternative work groups and conservation corps.

“We’re just asking that our contract be honored,” Mitchell said. “And so far the district has repeatedly tried to say that our contract does not apply and they have no obligation to meet with us.”

Meadow D’Arcy, chief steward of AFSCME Local 2428, told the board the labor management review board was created 37 years ago for the very purpose of minimizing conflict and working toward common goals.

“There’s a whole process here that needs to be followed,” D’Arcy said.

D’Arcy added that the union had to wait 11 weeks to get the information it requested about the Civicorp expansion and, even then, it was presented to the board and public instead of to the union. That’s great, D’Arcy said, but in a partnership “it’s important to communicate very clearly, immediately … and make sure that each side has an opportunity to explain their side and not have to do it in this public forum.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.

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